Moreso than ever before during the Ezra Hendrickson era, things are looking up for the Chicago Fire.
In spite of yet another low turnout at Soldier Field, the Fire stunned unbeaten Minnesota United, 2-1 thanks to a pair of first half goals from their most experienced player, and soared up the standings in doing so.
Hendrickson sprung no surprises with the starting lineup. The defensive spine of Chris Brady, Rafa Czichos, and Carlos Terán remained in place after a strong two weeks, and the midfield pair of Gastón Giménez and Fabian Herbers remained intact with Fede Navarro and Jairo Torres still out injured. The trio of Chris Mueller, Brian Gutiérrez, and Maren Haile-Selassie was also given another opportunity, as Xherdan Shaqiri is still recovering from injury. Miguel Ángel Navarro returned to the eleven at left back a week after returning from duty with the Venezuelan National Team. The only other change to the lineup was the removal of Kacper Przybyłko, who has been struggling for production over the last two seasons, at the center forward position. He was replaced in the team by 38-year-old Kei Kamara, who earned his first start of the season as the sole number 9.
Minnesota entered this match unbeaten, perfect on the road, and riding the high of defeating then-perfect St. Louis CITY. However, it was the Fire who came out and looked like the better team in the first half. French right back Arnaud Souquet, who has been pretty underwhelming so far this season, was given the nod ahead of Jonathan Dean on the right side of the back line, to the chagrin of many, but he quickly found ways to get involved in the attack, and it didn’t take long for the Fire to begin producing chances. Souquet whipped two crosses in from the right-hand side, one which went over the crossbar, and one that found Kamara who came close to opening the scoring.
While the veteran’s first attempt in the 17th minute couldn’t challenge Dayne St. Clair in goal, his rebound off of a reflected shot seven minutes later would. Kamara found the ball at his feet after some pinballing in the box, and he did very well to find the back of the net after juking out a defender. There was a lengthy VAR review after the ball ended up in the back of the net – Chris Mueller was mere inches onside in the buildup – but eventually, it was given.
Twelve minutes later, Kamara found the back of the net again, this time with a diving header off of an Arnaud Souquet cross. The goal bumped him up to third place on the MLS all-time scoring charts, surpassing the great Jaime Moreno, and he now only trails Landon Donovan and Chris Wondolowski. For Fire fans, it’s certainly a breath of fresh air to see a center forward putting goals in the back of the net regularly, and considering that Ezra first turned to new signing Georgios Koutsias as his first attacking sub, Przybyłko may be beginning to worry about his future with the club.
Minnesota did have their chances in the second half and had significantly more momentum in the second period. It seemed like they were knocking on the door of a goal after a strong start to the half, and they were rewarded in the 57th minute. Kervin Arriaga’s long-range free-kick was aimed almost directly at Brady, but the 19-year-old goalkeeper made an uncharacteristic gaffe, his second of the season following a similar error against Philadelphia in week 2.
That mistake was an anomaly. Brady was one of the top performers on the night, and in addition to a number of good saves in the first half, he was essential in closing out the win. Wyatt Omsberg also looked sharp in his first match back after a season-ending injury midway through 2022; he was introduced as a part of a back-five to close out the win towards the end.
“It happens and obviously that one’s on me, Brady said postgame. “I take full responsibility for that but like I said, there were still 30 minutes left in the game to finish out and I think us as a defense and as a team, collectively, we did that really well… Like I said, that’s a mistake that I made. One that you guys will never see again… We’re a team. We make mistakes as a team, and we win as a team.”
The Fire needed this win. They’re now unbeaten in four games, sit sixth place in the East with a game in hand, and have a huge opportunity to make a statement win at home against the Philadelphia Union next week. With the attack looking strong, the defense at their best, and key midfielders set to return soon, the coming months are looking very very bright for the Men in Red.